Published Winter 2013
By Rachel Strutt, Boston Magazine
Steve Dean with Winthrop Construction, right, signals to Larry Brisbois as they slowly lower a 3,000-pound mirror cell onto its mount at the new site of an observatory that once sat on Rattlesnake Mountain. The Advancement of Science Through Astronomy, or AASTA, had been looking for a new home for the observatory when the Department of Energy ordered it removed from the top of Rattlesnake Mountain in 2008. Volunteers have been working to refurbish and find a new home for the 0.8-meter Cassegrain telescope. (RICHARD DICKIN/Tri
As sole owner of Tuck & Holand Metal Sculptors, the burly, affable Holand fashions nautically themed weathervanes featuring everything from ships and humpback whales to schools of striped bass and lobsters—even great white sharks. It was a shark, in fact, that started the business. When the producers of Jaws were filming on Martha’s Vineyard in 1974, they contacted local artisan Travis Tuck to craft a copper weathervane depicting a man-eating great white. (In the film, the vane spun ominously atop the shack of crusty fisherman Quint. It’s now in L.A. with Joe Alves, the movie’s production designer.) Decades later, Tuck brought then-22-year-old Holand on as his apprentice, and eventually, the two became partners. When Tuck passed away in 2002, Holand took over the business.
“I first came to Massachusetts to avoid working on the family farm out in Washington State,” Holand says with a laugh. He was already familiar with bronze casting and sculpture from working in the foundry at Columbia Basin College, where he studied business—and snuck into as many art classes as possible.
Once on the island, Tuck introduced Holand to repoussé, a metalworking technique that involves hammering on the reverse side of the piece to create a low-relief design. It was the technique used to fashion Tutankhamun’s mummy mask as well as the Statue of Liberty.
Before Holand begins crafting a piece, he meets with the client to finalize the details of the subject, whether it’s a pair of WWII fighter planes, an antique car, or a sultry mermaid. Next he sketches a full-size paper pattern, which he’ll later archive for future projects. After cutting the necessary shapes from a sheet of copper, Holand fires up his blowtorch and heats the pieces until they are red hot and malleable—a process called annealing. Then he patiently coaxes the copper into a three-dimensional form, tapping it from behind on a wooden block to create curves and subtle textures, fusing pieces together, and re-annealing along the way. The process takes an incredible amount of patience and artistry.
“Sometimes you have to make your own tools to achieve the right effect,” Holand says. “For a school of fish I made recently, I had to make a new chisel tip to create the right look for the fins. I realized this wasn’t the sort of thing I would find in my local hardware store.”
Holand delights in the details of his work, a trait that can sometimes bring out his devilish side. Recalling a certain hunting-dog weathervane he crafted, Holand explains, “I got it down to his balls, so to speak. All his goodies were there. My clients loved it. When I delivered it to them, they said, ‘Look! They’re on there!’”
The mix of meticulous craftsmanship, creativity, and whimsy found in Tuck & Holand’s pieces has earned the business many notable clients, including Steven Spielberg and Jim Koch, the cofounder of Samuel Adams Brewery. The shop’s work can now be found across the globe, though the largest concentration of their weathervanes remains on Martha’s Vineyard, including the Nobska steamship piece that adorns the Steamship Authority terminal in Oak Bluffs.
Holand’s custom pieces, which include indoor sculpture, chandeliers, and sundials, start around $15,000, depending on size and complexity. There is currently a three-year waitlist.
“A lot of people just get on the list without knowing what they want,” Holand says. “It’s like making a reservation to go out to eat—you don’t have to decide which dish you want, but you know you’re in.”
THE MAKING OF A WEATHERVANE
1. The Sketch Transfer
Holand traces a fish onto a sheet of new copper, then uses tinner’s snips to cut out the shape.
2. The Annealing
With an oxyacetylene torch, Holand heats the copper to make it malleable enough to manipulate.
3. The Cooldown
The hot copper fish is plunged into cold water—a process called quenching—turning it a deep shade of red.
4. The Shaping
Holand uses a series of custom-made chisels to form the fish scales from the inside out.
5. The Assembly
Once the various pieces are formed, Holand clamps them into place and brazes them together with copper.
6. The Final Take
It takes about a week to make a single striped bass. The completed vane will include five more fish like this one.
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